In a rare case of efficiency the police has managed to round up the mastermind and most of his accomplices in the biggest robbery in Sri Lanka’s history, the Rs 70 million ATM cash heist a few months ago in Kelaniya.
However one startling fact the investigating cops discovered was that there was a police hand in the robbery itself. It has been found that a serving cop had been part of the gang and had played a key role in the robbery.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in the rot that has set in to what was once an efficient and independent entity. Today, it is an open secret that the underworld and most criminal gangs have a police ‘connection.’ Even big time brothels are said to be owned by policemen or in the alternative they are allowed to operate in return for favours. Top cops also own many private buses that observe traffic rules in the breach. Most crimes in recent times have a common streak – police involvement or the involvement of army deserters. At the last count it has been found that there are 50,000 army deserters – that is one in five army personnel is a deserter. It has been said that even post war the rate of desertion has not seen any reduction.
That this army that operates outside of the regular army is a threat to national security leave alone to individual security, is an understatement. After all these are men who are trained in the use of deadly weapons and are quite used to blood, death and violence. What they are not used to, is peace. The sooner the authorities do something about this the better. Also it would be good to study the reasons for such a high level of desertion post war.
There is a crime wave sweeping the north at present and though the English and the Sinhala media hardly report even a fraction of the crimes committed, the mainstream Tamil media is full of such reports on a daily basis.
It is a severe indictment on the police that when a serious crime occurs it is almost customary for the minister in charge to issue a statement saying that he has instructed the IGP to carry out a thorough investigation. Why such a directive is required in the first place defies logic. After all it is like telling a doctor to examine a patient whom he is supposed to treat. Isn’t that what he is supposed to do? What would happen if the minister forgets to ‘direct’ the IGP?
That the Police Department has hit rock bottom is an open secret. Ask 10 people what they think about the performance of the police and nine people will tell you that not only are they not happy with the department but are also disgusted by its (non) performance. As the former sports minister C. B. Ratnayake not so long ago pointed out, the police are one of three institutions that are most corrupt.
The level of corruption today is unprecedented – from the highest in the force pandering to the orders of his political bosses in return for survival and thereby all the perks that go with it, to the lowest level cop standing on a street corner booking motorists for traffic violations, the corruption is almost systemized. It is today quite normal for a politician to call the police top brass and order that his/her wishes be carried out as it is for a motorist who has been booked for an offence to offer a bribe to the policeman in order that the charges are dropped. Charges are generally instituted only when the bribe does not materialise or is ‘inadequate’ as per the policeman’s demands.
Despite this the IGP is on record stating that the police had collected Rs. 119 million in traffic related fines in 2010. We can safely hazard a guess that a similar amount went in to khaki pockets last year.
The traffic police have made extracting money a fine art. When their job is to prevent traffic violations or any crime for that matter, the cops will instead hide behind various places permitting violations to take place and then spring in to action when the crime has been committed. This strategy is akin to the police watching a murder being committed and then when the job is done, catching the murderer.
DIG Mediwaka a few months ago publicly frowned on this practice of the police and said that it was obvious the strategy had failed judging by the increasing number of violations. He instead suggested that police should be visible so that their very presence will act as a deterrent. This of course is highly unlikely to happen, as it will not fill khaki pockets.
Two incidents in the last two weeks really highlight the depths to which the police have fallen. In the first incident two cops had arrested a couple that had been together on the Wattala beach. The cops had then demanded Rs. 2000 from the poor couple in order that the charges be dropped. If the couple could spare this amount of money it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they would have chosen a better place. The couple had made a complaint to the police and the two bribe-seeking cops instead had been arrested. They had been drunk at the time.
In the second incident, days later, a young couple had been arrested by the Mt. Lavinia police for being inside a room. When the Magistrate inquired on what grounds the arrest had been made, the police had said – wait for it – that the couple could have disturbed the peace! How a couple inside a room can disturb the peace only a police with a very fertile imagination can explain. Case dismissed.
Sometime ago it was revealed that only four percent of all cases filed by the police were successfully prosecuted in court. It is hard to imagine that this startling statistic would have improved since the revelation a couple of years ago. IGP Balasuriya who is busy launching email addresses directly to him and complaints via SMS has his work cut out more than any other public official as the New Year dawns.
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